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Orice Jenkins, a Hartford-area composer and bandleader, is a young man — just 21 — but he creates music with a sense of urgency.
“Nobody knows how much time we have on this Earth,” Jenkins says, “and I have a lot of stuff to say.”
As a student in East Hartford, Jenkins performed with nearly every band, orchestra and chorus in the area. He also wrote, composed and arranged music for some of them. He worked on “Around the Piano,” a five-song EP. Jenkins says he’s still a student at the Hartt School but is currently taking a break from his collegiate education to focus on his career.
With his own sprawling, jazz/soul/hip-hop band, Jenkins recently finished work on “Soar,” a full-length album, and will celebrate with two CD release shows: the first March 12 at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, and a second at Black-eyed Sally’s, a Hartford blues and jazz mainstay, on March 14.
Jenkins has deep Hartford roots; his cousin, Cheryl Smith, co-founded the Artists Collective with Jackie and Dollie McLean. After getting hooked on music theory in high school — “It’s my favorite thing in the world,” he says — he encountered jazz vocals, for the first time, at a recital by singer Shawnn Monteiro at Hartt, who later became his teacher.
Part of the current push, however, is a desire to get his music, some of which has been piling up since high school, out into the world, Jenkins says.
“I’m a planner,” Jenkins says. “I’ve had the [‘Soar’] track list planned since probably two years ago. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember why.”
“Soar,” a deep well of traditional vocal jazz and contemporary sounds, will do just that. Credits on the album read like a who’s who of Hartford talent: percussionist Nelson Bello, vocalist Erica Bryan, keyboardist Mike Carabello, trombonists Nathan Davis and Michael Pallas, bassists Matt Dwonszyk and Tom Sullivan, guitarist Dan Liparini, drummer Jocelyn Pleasant and rapper Tang Sauce. (Two vocalists, Chad Browne-Springer of East Hartford and Rodney Tenor of South Windsor, are also featured.)
Most of the players are Jenkins regulars. “It’s difficult to keep them at every show,” he says, “but otherwise, they’re all a part of my band. They’re all in other bands, too.”
Of the four Jenkins originals on “Soar,” three are steeped in jazz: the slow, bluesy “But It’s Not Me,” which showcases Jenkins’ velvet baritone; “My Heart,” with scat-singing from Jenkins, trombone commentary and memorable solos from Liparini and Dwonszyk; and “Anatolian Sunset,” a fast romp with trombone doubling Jenkins’ vocals and a nice Rhodes solo from Carabello. The relaxed groove of album-closer “Birds Soar,” a fourth original song (featuring Tenor), builds to ecstatic peaks while showing off the band’s power to extend and inhabit a groove.
Standards and contemporary songs by other artists round out “Soar.” There’s a close reading of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady,” from the 1973 “Innervisions” album. “Bye Bye Blackbird,” an inventive, soul-funk vehicle for Jenkins, Bryan and Hartford rapper Tang Sauce, grows steadily more improvisatory. Jenkins channels smooth, Steely Dan-worthy textures (“I Only Have Eyes For You,” a Warren & Dubin standard) or mingles swing with funk (“Body & Soul,” with vocals from Browne-Springer). Most striking, however, is the opening take on Drake’s “Find Your Love,” which shifts between a Latin feel and straight-ahead swing.
“I didn’t want to alienate my audience,” Jenkins says. “[‘Find Your Love’] has everything you could ask for from me in it. It’s a hip-hop tune, but it’s played in a way that swings and has the Afro-Cuban vibe.”
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